On March 3, I traveled to Eminence, Ky. in Henry County to a quaint jewel of a Church, named in honor of the famous preacher saint and bishop, John Chrysostom, of the 4th century. At this parish, Deacon Butch Kinsella had taken the initiative to get the Stations of the Cross restored, and on this first Friday of Lent I had the privilege to rededicate the Stations and walk the way of the cross with Father Michael Tobin and parishioners. (See photos below.)
1892 is the date of the signed certificate that is now mounted under the first station. In that year, Bishop McCloskey traveled to Eminence and blessed these hand painted depictions of the sacrificial steps and encounters of Jesus on His way to His death on the cross – painful to recall but cleansing as we entered into these steps.
My mind flooded with deeply emotional memories of the Stations of the Cross – beginning with walking the Via Dolorosa through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem with other pilgrims. We meditatively walked the very footsteps of Jesus as crowds who were shopping and going about their business also filled the streets…. maybe the way the first walk occurred.
I thought of the privilege of celebrating Friday Stations of the Cross at the parishes in which I have served over the 45 years of my priestly life and service. I always found inviting that rhythm of the prayers and songs and meditative readings as I moved through the Church. I also recalled how each parish has been unique (some small and intimate and others massive and uplifting), and yet there is a universal nature to our prayer. I pictured lighted Churches spreading across the globe – in so many languages and flavored by local customs – but all with the faithful walking the same stations and all meditating on our loving Savior Jesus, walking with Him to the last.
In the past, I have made the Stations of the Cross by myself and with others. I think that I prefer with others, though there is something very moving about silently moving from one station to the other in a quiet church or outdoor pathway.
I recalled the days in which I went with my family every Friday throughout my elementary and high school years. I even humorously recalled my brother, George, who was born with Down syndrome – not a big fan of the Stations – giving them a new name – “up and down!” – to make real the genuflecting at each of the 14 stops. Fridays during Lent were a big day in my family – no meat at the end of the week, usually simple meals, walking to Church for Stations, and recalling and taking inventory of the Lenten plan that I had made that year. As I prayed the Stations at my home parish of Saint Mary in Mahanoy City, Pa, all of this experience in a sense was surrounding me and so many faithful in the passion and death of our Lord Jesus, as we inched little by little to Holy Week and the Paschal Mystery that ended with a joyous “Alleluia!”
On March 3 of this year at Saint John Chrysostom Church, the prayers were especially moving. They came from the missalette and were predominantly direct quotes from Sacred Scripture. I have read some versions of the Stations that are written in a contemporary way, but I really felt moved by Sacred Scripture speaking for itself. The verses are familiar, and they allow for rich imagery that fosters reflective prayer.
We sang a verse as we moved from place to place, and practically everyone in Church joined in. We were not strangers. Before the Stations of the Cross, we had shared a simple meal of homemade vegetable soup. (It was so delicious that I quickly accepted the offer to take home a full jar for the next day!)
As I drove home that evening, I couldn’t help but wonder how many families throughout the Archdiocese had the great privilege and opportunity to pray together that Friday evening, enjoying a simple meal and walking the time honored Way of the Cross. In our fast-paced, multi-tasking way of life, we need that walk with Jesus.